As you were reading the scriptures this week from the Old Testament Book of Numbers in our devotional Bible on March 21st through March 23rd, you encountered an interesting gentile prophet named Balaam. His story is an incredibly insightful study. At first glance, you may be asking, “What did Balaam do wrong?” We will first consider that question.
He was an unfaithful prophet. Balaam, by the ability given to him by God, had the opportunity to demonstrate the power of the true God against the deception of false gods and idols. When Balaam pronounced a blessing or a curse, it worked. King Balak said as much when he summoned Balaam to curse the Israelites (Num. 22:6). Balaam could have helped the Moabites and their neighbors to “turn to God from idols, to serve the living God” (1Th 1:9). However, this did not seem to be an interest of Balaam.
He was a false prophet. Balaam was too easily led away from God’s truth into error, and he in turn led many others astray (Num. 31:8, 16, Rev 2:14). Instead of giving the counsel of God, he taught people to practice idolatry and to commit fornication (Rev 2:14). It was his counsel that caused the children of Israel to sin and to suffer a terrible plague (Num. 25:1-9, Num. 31:14-16).
He loved money more than truth. For all Balaam’s talk about speaking only what God put into his mouth, he was wishing to curse the children of Israel for the generous fee Balak was willing to provide for his services. Instead of loving righteousness, Balaam “loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Peter 2:15-16). Balaam knew what pleased the Lord, but what pleased the Lord did not please Balaam.
He presumed to manipulate God. Yes, Balaam uttered a blessing instead of a curse; but only because God gave him no option. What would be the point in Balaam pronouncing a curse if God was going to give a blessing? Balaam would have looked ignorant and damaged his reputation. However, Balaam kept going along with Balak’s repeated attempts to get a curse from God upon the Israelites. This he did because, like Balak, he hoped that possibly God, by insistence, would change His mind. Nevertheless, God refused to listen and was angry with Balaam for not rejecting Balak’s proposal from the very beginning (Num. 22:12).
At this juncture, let us turn our attention to how God dealt with Balaam.
God told Balaam the truth clearly — “Do not go with them; you shall not curse the people; for they are blessed.” (Num. 22:12).
God gave Balaam an unmistakable sign —The incident with the donkey and the Angel of the Lord (a pre-incarnate Jesus) left Balaam without any excuse for continuing to compromise with Balak’s wishes (Num. 22:21-35).
God judged Balaam worthy of death —When he still insisted on going to Balak; but for his donkey, Balaam would have been killed by the Angel of the Lord (Num. 22:33).
God provided a savior for Balaam —Balaam’s donkey was Balaam’s suffering savior (Num. 22:33). As such the donkey may be seen as a type (prophetic symbol) of Christ.
God was longsuffering with Balaam —God was showing patience with Balaam’s pandering to Balak’s three attempts to change God’s word by changing mountaintops. (Num. 24:10-13).
God punished Balaam’s error with death —Consider those who heeded Balaam’s wicked counsel. (Num. 25:1-8, Num. 31:14-18).
God finally killed Balaam — This was accomplished at the hands of the Israelites (Joshua 13:22).
In summary, Balaam was a “prophet for profit!” His story should remind us that the gifts and abilities given to us by God belong to God. They are to be used in His service and not for our own ill-gotten gain. Devastation always awaits those who unrepentantly use their lives to further a selfish agenda with no thought or concern for the Maker of heaven, earth, and all things contained therein; the One who gives life and takes it because all life emanates from Him! May none of us “go the way of Balaam.”